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How to keep your hummingbird feeder pest-free | National Audubon Society

September 21, 2022

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

A Ruby-throat at the feeding trough. That yellow thing is a bee/oriole guard.
Photo: Bill Gordon/Great Backyard Bird Count

Anyone who’s ever hung a hummingbird feeder in their yard knows that other creatures like it too. Include in that assortment of interlopers: bees, ants and other insects; bears; orioles, chickadees and other birds. And squirrels. Not too many people complain about the orioles, but bears and bees can be a different matter.

Here’s a few hints from the Audubon Society, your source for all things birdwise for the past 120 years.

Bears: Take any and all feeders down, clean them up and store them inside until the bears stop coming by. Clean up your yard, especially any smelly garbage: omnivorous bears eat almost anything, including canned food. When you think it’s safe, put the feeders out again; if they return, put them inside. Repeat as necessary.

Insects: Bees and ants are the main problems. Bees are beneficial insects and fun to have around, but some (mostly honeybees) do sting and some people have potentially lethal reactions to bee venom. (The solitary bees in our yard sometimes smother our springtime blooming native plants yet they’ve never been aggressive towards me. Wasps, hornets & honeybees will and have attacked me.)

  • First, second and third, Clean, clean, clean: Keep the outside of the feeder free from accumulating sugar water. If the feeder bounces around in the wind the nectar will slosh and dribble out; figure out some other way or place to hang it.
  • Bee guards (round plastic mesh thingies), if kept clean, keep the bees out. They can also keep orioles out.
  • Attachable ant moats (or ant guards) can be purchased and added. Some feeders come with them built in. They purportedly drown ants trying to climb down onto them. (After reading exciting stories about army ants in Africa crossing streams and canals and devouring entire herds of cattle, and seeing ant swarms in the Amazon rainforest crossing small rivulets on bridges built of their own bodies, I have to wonder about the efficacy of such a moat. But there they are if you want one.)

Squirrels: How would I know, and the NAS article doesn’t mention them either. As far as I can see, they can figure, jump and crawl their way past any defense you can concoct. The true rulers of the world. If you think I exaggerate, read this (and watch the video).

Other Birds: Oh, let them come. They’re fun too.

If you don’t take my word for all this, check out the NAS article upon which this is based.
There are three (or more!) very interesting articles on hummingbirds at the bottom of the NAS article:
The Origins of Hummingbirds are Still a Major Mystery
How to Make Hummingbird Nectar
Hummingbird Gorgets: Jewels of the Sky

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